As a toddler, one of my daughters loved to say ‘No!’ She enjoyed it so much that sometimes she said it for the fun of it. “No! No! No!” like she was practising to drive me up the wall. However, as she grew older, she also became the most assertive of my children, questioning things she did not understand or agree with, either at school, church or home.
We butted heads several times as I asserted my authority and she challenged it. Thankfully, that rebellious phase has since passed and we get along very well today.
Yet, if anyone taught me the value and importance of the word “No”, it was her. When she was younger, I thought it was a sign of weakness to say “No”.
It would show her to be ungrateful, rebellious and rude. And who didn’t want polite children that ran to do everyone’s bidding?
However, as I matured, took on more responsibilities, I soon begun to appreciate why it would be important to decline unwarranted invitations and requests that left me stretched thin, unhappy and went against my goals, priorities and values.
Being amiable, which is really a more politically correct term than being a “Yes person”, meant I was called upon by bosses, colleagues, family and friends at the last minute to solve their crises. “We know we can count on you,” they would say as they heaped another request. So why did I resent being the one to be “counted upon” all the time? And why didn’t I just refuse to be so available?
In 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, Amy Morin writes, “If automatically saying Yes has become a habit in your life, learn how to evaluate your decision before giving an answer. When someone asks you to do something, ask yourself these questions before responding: is this something I want to do? Most people pleasers don’t even know what they want because they’re so used to doing things automatically. Take a moment to evaluate your opinion.
What will I have to give up by doing this? If you do something for someone else, you’ll have to give something up. Maybe it’s time with your family or perhaps it will cost you money. Before making a decision, recognise what saying Yes will mean for you.
What will I gain by doing this? Maybe it will give you an opportunity to improve your relationship, or maybe doing something like this will likely be something you enjoy. Think about the potential benefits of saying Yes.
Eventually, as the demands on my time, energy and finances increased, often clashing, I found myself over scheduled, close to burnout and broke. Something had to change. “Saying “No” to something you would rather not do, means saying “Yes” to something you want to do,” a friend who is a life coach, encouraged me. And so I took the halting steps to being disagreeable. At first I felt compelled to offer a reason why. It was an attempt to justify my seeming “rudeness”.
Richard E. Cytowic in PsychologyToday.com offers some clues on how to say “No” well. He writes, “Make your refusals polite, and retreat gracefully but firmly.
“I’m sorry, but that day is impossible for me.” Be inexplicable. “It would make things too complicated.” “I’m not up to it, but thank you, anyway.”
“Thank you for thinking of me.” When you offer no excuse you imply that you’d love to participate or oblige if only it were possible. Just say “No”. Repeatedly. Once you get the hang of it, you will find yourself better able to protect your private time. “I’m so sorry, but I have to finish my errands.” Just keep declining — and enjoy your private time out.”
With more practice, “No” finally became a complete sentence for me. I waited for it but the world did not fall apart. Family and friends were resentful for a while but they eventually got used to the new order of things. My “No” was okay. My “No” was enough.